Now, I know that Bradbury is all about crafting metaphors when it comes to storytelling, so any time I read his work I’m on the lookout for what he’s done. I would love to say that this is what I’m stealing from his writing, but it’s not something that a writer can just lift wholesale like a secret technique. In Bradbury’s own words, metaphor is akin to theme in that one mustn’t force it, or even be conscious of it when drafting. It’s something that emerges or doesn’t. And we could argue about whether a delightful story requires a theme or a metaphor all day long.
Personally, I’m not convinced of those elements as requirements. Some of the best stories I’ve read go nowhere and say nothing. Theme and metaphor are “big brain” layers to stories, and often the average reader isn’t trained to look for them. But, as a big-brain reader myself, I do appreciate stories more if there are layers of complexity to them, and underlying meaning. Thus, I would like to incorporate more of that into my own work. It seems, though, to be more a product of production than anything else. If one sits down and writes a hundred stories, there’s a good chance that one or two of them will contain enough material to edit into something layered. That’s where I’m at with my craft, and I know that there’s no solution or cure to my creative ailments than to simply write more words.
All that said, the first nine stories of Celebrated Tales were refreshing in their inconsistency. I expected banger after banger and realized that that isn’t humanly possible. This was a lesson I’d learned myself during my “365” project, where I wrote either a poem or piece of flash fiction every day for a year. The fact of the matter is that they can’t all be bangers, and bangerness isn’t a reliable meterstick for measuring publishability. If people only published masterpieces, there’d only be a handful of books in the library.
What did come across was the clarity of Bradbury’s voice. Again, this was something I also found through the 365 project: that mysterious grail of the author’s voice is a thing that comes from repeatedly practicing the craft. It’s practically impossible to hear from a single short piece. It might even take several novels worth of writing for a recognizable tone to emerge. And like theme and metaphor, it’s not something that I think we need to take conscious control over. Like all emergent phenomena, it shines brightest when left to flourish on its own.
While there wasn’t much for me to take away aside from the reminder to keep scratching away at the practice, there are still ninety-one stories left to read in this volume. This was something that Bradbury taught me years ago. He said, “Try to read either a short story or an essay every night.” It’s a habit that I made stick during the tail-end of covid isolation, and I can say without question that it has improved my writing. There is tremendous value in the author’s truism of, “read often, and read widely.”